There is a unique way to trap monkeys in the islands of the South Seas. The natives drill a small hole in a coconut, hollow it out and fill it with rice. Once a monkey puts its hand in the coconut to get the food, it cannot remove its clenched fist. Refusing to let go of their prize, the monkeys are unable to escape.
Publishers can get caught in a similar trap if they become conditioned to avoid risks and persist in using strategies that were successful in the past, without evaluating whether they are still relevant today. Their grasp on a comfortable feeling of security yields the same sense of contentment the passengers on the Titanic experienced moments before it struck the iceberg.
Don't just do something, stand there!
Stop yanking at the coconut, let go of your past and pause to ponder what you are doing and where you are going. Go back to the basics of marketing and create a plan that defines your mission, generates objectives, establishes strategies and develops specific tactics.
1. Mission. Your mission statement is a concise answer to two questions. First, "What business are we in?" This may seem obvious because you are a producer and purveyor of books. But this is a limiting concept because you are really a provider of information that people need and are willing to pay for.
Second, "Who are we trying to serve?" Define your target readers and buyers. Use the Five Ws: who are they, where do they shop, when do they buy, why do they need your content and in what form do they want it?
2. Objectives. The purpose of objectives is to divide your long-term vision into attainable goals. Traditional business planning requires that objectives be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-oriented. However, goals must be more than that or they simply remain good intentions.
Write your objective so it helps you find new ways to reach it. A goal to “Sell X0,000 books by December 31, 2018” places your focus on selling books. If you say, “Reach net revenue of $X00,000” you expand your focus to profitably selling your content through books, booklets or other formats. And you could increase revenue through corporate sales, consulting and/or speaking.
3. Strategies. Next, define the strategies that will direct your efforts to achieve your objectives. Think of your strategies as statements of the general direction you will take in each of the four areas of marketing: Product, Place, Price and Promotion.
A. Product strategy. The word product (instead of book) forces you to think of all merchandise you can create that will satisfy the needs of your customers.
B. Place strategy. Place refers to your distribution network. There are three general channels: direct, indirect or a combination of the two. Indirect distribution to retailers utilizes some variation of the traditional distributor – wholesaler – retailer (bookstore, supermarket, airport store, etc) system. Alternatively, you might consider the technique of marketing directly to non-retail buyers in corporations, associations, schools or the military. The preferred system would be a combination of these two.
C. Pricing strategy. There are three pricing strategies. These are, 1) a penetration strategy with a low price, 2) a skimming strategy with a high price, or 3) a competitive strategy, pricing your book similar to competitors.
D. Promotion strategy. There are four general promotional tools you can use at different times (online or offline) to accomplish your goals. These are sales promotion, publicity, advertising and personal selling.
4. Tactics. In each of the four strategic areas, describe innovative and specific actions you will take to employ your marketing weapons. This creates a "To Do" list of activities that will apply your strategies and fulfill your objectives. Customize your actions to each title and author's circumstances. Be specific and add a deadline for the accomplishment of every action.
Product tactics. If you chose a strategy that would expand your product mix, list the actions you will take to do so. For instance, which current titles are candidates for ebooks? Audiobooks? When and how will you have them converted?
Place tactics. Your decision to continue with the traditional distribution channel is now a preference rather than a habit. Plan new ways to work with your distributor's salespeople to help them sell more of your books. Also, find salespeople who can sell your books to non-retail buyers.
Pricing tactics. What will your price be? Basing the price on your costs plus a standard markup is a simple system, but it fails to consider competition, customers' buying habits, volume benefits, special-sales opportunities, economies of scale and profit objectives. Choose one strategy and set your price.
Promotion tactics. Create a mix of tools to best promote your books – offline and online.
1) Sales promotion utilizes items such as premiums, giveaways, coupons, and website offers to generate awareness and stimulate demand through short-term awareness campaigns.
2) Publicity (social networking, testimonials, media appearances, press releases, reviews) is perhaps the most economical element of the promotional mix.
3) Advertising, including direct mail, can reach many consumers simultaneously, with the same message and with a relatively low cost per exposure.
4) Personal selling (direct sales, personal networking, trade shows, store events) can be the most persuasive promotional tool because it allows two-way communication.
Don't be afraid to evaluate what has worked for you in the past and try new strategies and tactics if necessary. Aim high. Set big goals that will motivate you to action. Remember, some people thought Goliath was too big to hit. David thought he was too big to miss. Whether you have a stone in your sling or your hand in a coconut, you may need to let go to succeed.